Honor a life by sharing a story

I met Joshua Febres on the morning of January 6, 2019. He was living on the northwest corner of 34th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City.

I was meeting an artist friend, Janusz Gilewicz, at the Tic Toc diner.  Joshua was begging for money for food so we invited him to have breakfast with us. We asked for his story and he was kind enough to allow me to record it.  Afterward, Janusz sketched a sign that he could use for his begging.

I published his story and you can find it, along with a link to the original audio here.  I kept in touch with Joshua for many months and he never asked me for money. I decided to print cards with his story so that he might sell them or give them as a sign of gratitude to people who help him.

He asked me to not give him more than 100 at a time and pack them in waterproof plastic bags because everything he owns tends to get soaked during the rain.

He told me later that although he was unable to sell the cards he did offer them to people who gave him money. He said that nobody took the cards. In one instance someone said they would come back for it but they never did. Although I’d printed 1,000 cards, he asked me not to give him any more.

My observation is that more than your money, the people on the street just want to be seen as human and respected as such. And yet many more people are willing to give them a dollar than a minute, and few want to touch them or even touch something that they touched.

It might do us good to think about that during this global COVID-19 pandemic at a time when we’re all afraid to touch each or even things touched by others.

Now might be a good time to share Joshua’s story. I have nearly 900 cards left, and if you live near me and know my address then feel free to pick up a stack of the cards from my front porch. Perhaps you can use them as Christmas cards or, if you do charity work, you might share Joshua’s story with the people who support you. Even if it is raining the cards are dry because I have them packed in double layer zip-loc bags just like I did for Joshua. And, I’ve used surgical gloves so you need not fear germs from me.

If you want to print your own supply of cards you can find 300 dpi images of the outside here and the inside here. I used and it only cost me $443.03 for 1,000 full color glossy outside and matt on the inside.

I kept in touch with Joshua through early Spring 2019 and then he vanished. I don’t know what happened, but even if he is dead, with your help perhaps we can keep his story alive


My Story by Joshua Febres

As told to Brooke Allen and Janusz Gilewicz at the Tick Tock diner in Manhattan on January 7, 2019

johsuaatdinerI was born Josue Febres. I am 40 years old. My life story started in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At fifteen years old I became a provisional boxer, welterweight glove. It was in Paterson where I started boxing.

At 27 years old I had a car accident. In one of my legs and one of my arms I have metal in it so definitely my career was over. From Atlantic City we moved to New York.

Unfortunately I caught cancer in my lungs from smoking cigarettes and I got HIV from messing with a woman.  

I became homeless about three months ago because I lost my mother, my wife and my daughter who got burned in a fire in my apartment. I was sleeping and it was a Saturday night and I fell asleep with a cigarette in my hand. I did what I wasn’t supposed to be doing; sleeping with a cigarette lit in an hand with kids around.

So, unfortunately the house caught on fire. I tried saving my wife and my daughters and my mamma was already telling me to take them out. My mamma was 69 years old so she didn’t care about herself, only about me taking my wife and my baby out. You know how a grandmother is. If a mother is crazy, imagine a grandmother. My baby was an only grandchild she got from her youngest son; the youngest one in the family.

Things went crazy; I almost killed myself, committed suicide twice. I’ve been homeless for maybe three months, no more than that. Life is hard. I sit down sometimes in a corner and I think about what is going on with my life. Who is going to handle my life; who is going to come and rescue me; who is going to help me?

When I was in the hospital they give me what I’m supposed to have. My medications, my psychiatrist; my history. They gave me everything to get back to my life.

But they tell me I can’t have a job because… it can’t be; it can’t be, because of HIV. HIV kills everything.

They don’t want me around nobody because they’re scared; they’re scared. I’m scared too because I’m sick and I don’t want to get nobody sick and I don’t want nobody to think about that. Because I’m sick they are going to get sick. But you cannot catch HIV like that; that easy. HIV has got to be blood transfusion. If not, you’ll never catch it. Same thing happen with Hepatitis-C. I don’t got it, but it’s the same way.

Cancer? I can’t say anything ‘cause it runs in the family. Also, with smoking so. Asthma? I was born an asthmatic as a baby. Diabetes I got; after 25 or 30 years old is when I found out I was a diabetic.

Other than that, I’m happy because I’m still alive.


johsuaonstreetMy friend, Janusz, is an artist who I commissioned to paint a portrait for me. We agreed to meet the Tick Tock at 10 A. M. on January 7th, 2019. I arrived early so I struck up a conversation with Joshua, who lives on the grate in front of the restaurant.

Because Joshua seemed hungry I invited him to have breakfast with us. His story was fascinating so he agreed to let us record it on my phone and then Janusz sketched a sign for him. 

Stop by and visit him to learn more. If you hurry up I’m pretty sure he’ll be there on the northwest corner of 34th and 8th. I know he was there Sunday morning, the 13th, when I took this second picture. He gave me $3 and asked me to buy him a coffee with seven sugars. 

Just like him, you might want to tell your story to somebody too. If the people who love you are too busy to listen, you might want to stop by and visit with Joshua. He has time, for now at least.

Listen to his story in his own words.

He has more to say about his life and about his hopes and aspirations on the audio. He says he is a pretty funny guy (which I can confirm) and he can rap in both English and Spanish. 

You do not need permission to do the right thing. No one can give you permission to do the wrong thing.

I went to college in 1970. By 1974 I had a degree in mathematics and experience hitchhiking  to every state of the union except for Alaska and Hawaii; perhaps 30,000 miles in all.

I learned more about how to live from those experiences than anything I learned in a school. Here is the story of what I learned from a man in the pick-up truck who took my girlfriend and me from central Minnesota to just west of Fargo, North Dakota.

Had I not learned this lesson my life would have been very different; not only would I have been much less inventive I would not have had the courage to stand up to some of the shenanigans I saw during the 30 years I was on Wall Street.

I’ll call him Jeb. I don’t remember his name, but during Prohibition he used to bootleg whisky, so Jeb sounds like a good bootlegger’s name, don’t you think?

He said the pay was good and it was exciting work because the cops were always chasing you, but it wasn’t very intellectual. The only creative thing he learned was the Bootlegger’s K-Turn. He left the Interstate for a side road to show us how it is done. I’ll draw it for you: Continue reading “You do not need permission to do the right thing. No one can give you permission to do the wrong thing.”

How to write if you cannot concentrate.


Jack Rieur was the most wonderful teacher I ever had and perhaps the best teacher anywhere on the planet and for all time. I first met him in 1963 when he was my 6th grade teacher and we have kept in touch ever since.

Sure, he covered the state mandated syllabus, but what he really taught was that the world was something we go out and live in and not read about in the classroom. And learning was fun; the most fun you can ever have. And if you pay attention you can learn from life itself and the point wasn’t that there was a test at the end of the semester but later in life you had to teach others because the human race is not a race to the finish but a relay race where near the finish line we must pass the baton.

For example, he taught geography not from the book but from the slides he took personally when he visited all the places in the book. Here is a picture I took of him back when he was a spry 89-year-old in front of the 79,662 slides he used in practicing his craft and that have since been digitized and stored by the Archives at the Consortium Library. I have been to more than 40 countries so far and have set up housekeeping in a few (and I’m no where near done). Had I not had him I might have run the risk of having gone to Canada once and seen a few other countries for a few hours each on a cruise.

He died this last August but his spirit lives on in me. For example he came to my rescue just now when I was stuck writing one thing and I got unstuck by writing something else.

Mr. Rieur’s other name was Jack but he insisted his sixth grader’s call him Mr. Rieur. It was not a matter of respect for age but of class. You only got to call him Jack if you became a teacher too. Well I have approached raising my children and managing my businesses and all my writing as a teacher, and so I think I have earned the right to call him Jack posthumously. However if you have done none of those things then please call him Mr. Rieur out of respect.

How to write if you cannot concentrate.

People tell me that they cannot concentrate long enough to write anything coherent that isn’t trite or a cut-and-paste job of things off the web, which doesn’t count anyway.

I say, “So?” Continue reading “How to write if you cannot concentrate.”

Stories from Germany

by: Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com

luftwaffeA Luftwaffe Airman’s Daughter

In 1980, my girlfriend and I were traveling on a rail pass. We left from Milan bound for Frankfurt only because that is where the train went.

A German businessman sat across from us and asked, “Where are you going?”


“Why? Frankfurt is so boring. You should go to Wiesbaden instead.”

We asked, “Why?”

“Because that is where we live and you will stay with us.”

His wife spoke English with a perfect British accent. It turned out her father had been in the Luftwaffe and had been shot down during the Battle of Britain. He became best friends with a prison guard, and after the war during the summers they would swap children. She grew up partially in England.

She said the difference between the treatment of prisoners by the British and the Germans was astonishing.

We all cried.

We were there having dinner with them because they had decided to make it a habit of being kind to strangers; which is not a bad policy even when the stranger had recently been trying to blow up your country.


Beautiful Women of the GDR

I won a British Airways contest based on my social entrepreneurship site, No Shortage of Work, and the prize was airfare to anywhere BA flies. I put a notice on my profile on Europe’s equivalent of LinkedIn called Xing. Dozens of people said they would love to meet me in person so I flew into Frankfurt, then Cologne, and flew out of Hamburg and for 11 days I spent my time meeting people in person I’d only corresponded with before on Xing.

Although my sample size is very small, I have the following observation:

The most interesting, dynamic, interesting, hard-working, fearless, and interesting people I met were:

1) Female

2) Beautiful

3) From East Germany, but were now in the West.

4) Were born under Communism, but grew into adulthood after the fall of the Wall.

My sample size was small and I am partial to young beautiful women so perhaps that is why I find them more interesting than old male businessmen like me, but I still think there is something to this.

What do you think?



An Unemployed German

In 2004, in Nuremberg, I met Kai, a very talented 51-year-old programmer who had been unemployed for 2 years, so my wife and I took him to dinner. His attitudes were self-defeating and I attacked every one of his beliefs:

“The economy is terrible.”  So, are you just going to wait for it to improve?

“The government is incompetent.”  Are you going to run for office and fix it?

“I’ve only had 2 interviews and they both ended abruptly when they learned my age.”  People are prejudiced. Do you have a plan for how you are going to change them, or are you going to take a different approach?

“I don’t have a college degree.” That hasn’t stopped you for 30 years.

“Nobody cares.” There is a whole community of programmers just like you. Are you going to continue ignoring them or are you going to start caring about them and see if they care back?

“There is no work.” There is never a shortage of work even when there is a shortage of jobs. Find some work and do it even if you aren’t paid.

“I’ve built some amazing software on my own, but can’t sell it.” Are you going to learn to sell, partner with someone who can, or give up on doing what you want and start doing what other people want?

“There are no jobs in Germany.”  You’re in the EU now so you can go where there are jobs.

“My English isn’t good enough.”  Sure it is; I understand you perfectly. If you don’t understand me it isn’t because of your language skills, it is because of how you are thinking.

My wife kept kicking me under the table and whispered, “He just wants your sympathy.”

I said, “Perhaps, but it isn’t what he needs.”

We were living in London at the time and he even flew over to spend a weekend with me to get more of my abuse.

Soon he got unstuck and landed a job in Copenhagen (good pay, company apartment, flight home every other weekend) and a year later he moved to England for another job.

Kai and I have become good friends and my wife and I stayed with him outside London in November 2010.

He says he hates going back to Germany because too many people there think the way he used to.

I was speaking to a group of programmers, many of whom were looking for work. I asked Kai to write a short essay explaining what he learned, and how he changed his approach to what some call “networking.” Here is what he produced:


Things VS People

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brooketallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published October, 2009, in International Family Magazine
Republished in Folks Magazine on 10/24/09.

When I was 16, my dad told me to get in the car – we were going for a ride. We drove to Bolek’s Foreign Car Service. My dad told Bolek that his son needed to learn how to work and he would drop me there every Saturday morning. He told Bolek that I wasn’t worth anything so he shouldn’t pay me anything. He gave Bolek $100 as an advance against any damage I might do. Then he drove off.

Over the next year I learned to get my hands dirty, how to use tools, and how things worked.

– – –

When my dad had a problem, we went to visit Frank at Frank’s hardware store.

Frank was a problem solver and his store was a huge collection of tools and parts for solving problems.

“Looks like this is a job for a ¾ inch bit and a stove bolt.” “I’d use a rubber coupling and a hose clamp.” “An arc welder is better for that than acetylene.”

– – –

Decades later, I became a dad too.

– – –

I sat next to a four-year-old girl at a neighbor’s dinner table.

“I hate broccoli. How come I never get what I want? I hate you.” She began pounding the table and crying.

While her parents were in the kitchen making her French fries, I turned to her and asked, “Wow. How do you do that?”

Her crying stopped abruptly and she gave me a sly smile. “You want to yell and make a lot of noise. Don’t stop. It really helps if you can cry.”

“But, why do I want to do that?”

“Because that way you get what you want.”

A young boy was given a present by his divorced dad at Cub Scout camp.

“But mommy gave me two presents, and both of them were nicer than this.” He wrinkled his nose.

The dad frowned, “You don’t think this is the only thing I got you, do you?” That afternoon, the father left the camp to go shopping.

– – –

I sat on the abandoned lifeguard chair as I watched a young girl run across the sand.

She twisted her ankle and fell in a heap.

She began crying hysterically.

Suddenly she stopped, stood, and looked around. Her father was far away; out of earshot.

She collapsed again and bawled even louder.

She stood again. Her father had wandered off so she resumed joyfully running down the beach.

– – –

Today, I can tell you what everything in a hardware store is used for.

But I am terrible at getting other people to do what I want.

Teach your children to manipulate things, not people.


(And the best way to teach them not to manipulate people is to not let them manipulate you.)

Crime Prevention

Many lock in only one door. Concept of security.

© 2009 Brooke Allen
brooke@brookeallen.com www.BrookeAllen.com
Originally published September, 2009 in International Family Magazine

A week after I moved to Manhattan, I went to a street fair and found there a policeman with a big sign: HELP US PREVENT CRIME

I approached, “I’m game. How can I help you prevent crime?”

He said, “By putting three locks on your door.”

“But I already have two locks on my door, and I find it really annoying. How does having three prevent crime?”

“Years ago, everyone had one lock, so we told them to get two. Now everyone has two, so you need three.”

“But how does having three prevent crime?”

“The thing is, crooks are lazy… if they weren’t they’d get jobs. Your goal is to make your door harder to break into than the next one.”

“But that doesn’t prevent crime. It just gets my neighbor broken into instead of me.”

He laughed, “What do you care?”

A girl moved in across the hall a few months later. She did not have a phone and frequently asked to borrow mine, so I began leaving my door open. She reciprocated, and soon a bunch of us on the floor did. Our tiny apartments became less claustrophobic. Friendlier too…

There were break-ins in our building. But not on our floor – even though none of us bought that third lock. Perhaps it was because we were looking out for each other.

It takes community to prevent crime, and communities are made from open doors, not locked ones.

Putting more locks on your door prevents crime just like stuffing your face prevents hunger.